Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Super Bowl Party or Super Spreader Event?

TLDR: All the medical professionals have been urging people to avoid large crowds but would Americans abide by the rules and avoid Super Bowl parties?

I calculate the size of the average Super Bowl party by dividing the estimated number of viewers by the estimated number of TVs watching the Big Game. The results show that the average party was the lowest it has been since 2007, reversing a trend of growing party sizes.

Although it is still likely higher than the medical professionals would have liked and large parties likely still occurred, there are signs that some individuals did heed some warning and avoided the large crowds.

Everyone's aunt's favourite heart-throb, Dr. Fauci, and medical professionals alike, have asked everyone to stay home, wear masks, avoid crowds, etc., etc. – I think we all know and are near our wit's end with the terms 'social distancing,' 'unprecedented,' and 'normalcy' (technically, unless we are taking about geometry, normalcy is not the correct word... it should be normality). 

But despite all these warnings, would Americans forgo gathering on what some see as the holiest of days of the year - Super Bowl Sunday?

The Nielsen Company, famous for its research into the television viewing habits of Americans, actual can provide insight into this question. Every year, Nielsen provides the ratings—the estimated number of televisions watching the Super Bowl—and the total number of viewers. Nielsen is a trusted source on this topic and I have talked about them ad nauseum on this blog... (like here for football, or baseball, or even basketball).

As a quick summary, a television program's ratings are calculated as follows:

Rating = 100 × (# TVs tuned to the Program) / (# of TVs)

For example, when Nielsen says a television program had a rating of 5, that means 5% of all TVs in the designated marketing area were watching that program. The remaining 95% could be watching a different program or turned off entirely.

While the typical Super Bowl attracts both large ratings (+40% of all TVs in recent years), it also attracts large crowds at Super Bowl parties. Aside from the gut-wrenching series finale of M*A*S*H, the Super Bowl makes up the top 30 most-watched American television programs. Nielsen also provides an estimate on how many people are watching the game. If we multiply the number of people watching by the number of TVs, we can get the average number of people watching the same TV which we can think of as the average Super Bowl party size. It can be calculated as follows:

Super Bowl Party Size = Estimated Audience / [Rating × (# of TVs)]

So, using the formula above how did the US do? Below, I plot the average Super Bowl party sizes for the last 15 years:

What we see is a stark reversal in an otherwise increasing trend of larger Super Bowl parties. For the first time since 2007, less than two individuals gathered to watch the Super Bowl. (For those of you who think an average Super Bowl party of 2.25 people is lower than you anticipated, consider that for every massive party there are likely numerous households with one individual watching plus all the people following Shania Twain's rule of having a party for two).

While there were lots of concern that Super Bowl parties would turn into super spreader events, it appears some have heeded the advice of the experts and opted for a smaller crowd or avoided parties altogether. While this likely meant that there were still the same crowded parties that were held 15 years ago, it also means there is still some hope that people are listening to the rules!

Good job America!

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